Thumbs up: Rogers on his way to a defensive convoy
Which way does the thumb turn for the 49ers after their 34-0 victory Sunday over the New York Jets, including a bounce-back of defensive dominance, a regular wrinkle of Colin Kaepernick, a convoy for Carlos Rogers, David Akers hooking to the right, Dashon Goldson playing a mean center field, Frank Gore’s power plunge, emerging new weapon Mario Manningham and much more? Check inside.
Thumbs up: How’s that for a dominating bounce-back performance by the proud San Francisco defense? The Niners hurt the Jets and humiliated them, limiting New York to a paltry 145 yards of offense and nine first downs while handing the Jets their third-worst home shutout loss in franchise history. Yes, the Minnesota game last week is now looking much more like an aberration.
Thumbs up: Getting back to their feisty, scrappy, aggressive selves, San Francisco defenders forced four turnovers, sacked New York quarterback Mark Sanchez three times and allowed the Jets offense to drive past the San Francisco 44-yard line once the entire game.
Thumbs up: Could Sunday have been the unveiling of Colin Kaepernick as a regular wrinkle in the San Francisco offense? Let’s hope so. Running an option read from shotgun formation, Kaepernick burst over the left side on his first snap for a 17-yard run, matching the gain of his first carry of the year in the season opener. He later took another direct snap and swept seven yards around left end for San Francisco’s first touchdown on a play during which the blocking in front of him made it easy for the long-legged QB to score his first NFL TD after rushing for 59 of them in college.
Thumbs up: We also saw the first pass of Kaepernick’s career that didn’t come in fourth-quarter garbage time. Kap wobbled a deep pass toward a triple-covered Randy Moss that fell incomplete in the end zone, but it served notice that opponents also will have to be wary about what the second-year QB can do with his arm.
Thumbs up: And yet a third skyward thumb for young Kap, who with the 49ers trying to run out the clock in the final minutes, broke loose in the open field on a third-down bootleg and instead of cruising into the end zone to complete a 33-yard touchdown run that would have put San Francisco’s point total in the 40s, instead slid at the New York 3-yard line and subsequently took two kneeldowns on the next two plays to spare the Jets further humiliation. Kaepernick finished with a career-high 50 yards rushing on five carries, gaining 54 yards on his first three carries before the two kneeldowns diminished his final numbers.
Thumbs down: It’s bad enough that the 49ers had to twice settle for David Akers field-goal attempts after driving inside the New York 30-yard line, but it’s even worse that the All-Pro kicker missed both of them. Akers had problems in pre-game warm-ups hooking the ball to the right in his first visit to MetLife Stadium, and that’s what happened on both his 40- and 55-yard misses that helped keep the game closer than it should have been halfway through the contest – not that it mattered much in the end.
Thumbs down: The latter miss, which just hooked outside the right upright, was made even worse in that three plays before it the Niners had a first down at the New York 29. But back-to-back sacks on Alex Smith pushed them back to the 37 before Akers came on to kick from the 45. Those ended up as the only sacks of Smith, who threw only 21 passes and now has been dumped 12 times through the first quarter of the season.
Thumbs up: Have to like the big hit Dashon Goldson put on New York tight end Dedrick Epps on New York’s first drive of the second quarter. Epps had just made his first reception of the season – giving quarterback Tim Tebow his first completion as a Jet – to convert a third-down play before Goldson leveled Epps and forced him to cough up the ball for the Jets’ first turnover. Epps also was injured on the play, and Goldson’s big hits tend to have that effect on opponents.
Thumbs up: Goldson also had a tremendous play in coverage, playing a nice center field to come over the top of Santonio Holmes to knock away a Sanchez bomb just as it arrived near the goal line on a play that likely would have been a New York touchdown had Goldson not timed his break on the ball perfectly.
Thumbs up: Three plays later, on the first snap of the fourth quarter, Holmes fell awkwardly near the right sideline after catching a pass and lost the football as he dropped to the ground in pain. Carlos Rogers came swooping in to pick up the football, then followed a convoy of defensive teammates down the sideline going the other way for a 51-yard touchdown return that turned the game officially into a rout with a full quarter still to play.
Thumbs down: The 49ers rolled to 379 yards of total offense and displayed some sparks on that side of the ball, but their struggles on third down once again prevented them from taking total command even earlier than they eventually did. The Niners held huge edges in total yards (210-83), rushing yards (119-34) and time of possession in the first half, yet they held only a tenuous 10-0 lead on the scoreboard because they were just 1 of 5 converting on third down. San Francisco converted just 33 percent of hits third downs in the game, one of the few nitpicks to be found in a complete all-around performance.
Thumbs up: The Niners might have gotten their best pass-rush push of the season. Aldon Smith had two sacks, Ahmad Brooks had another, and the inside pressure of Ray McDonald and Justin Smith resulted in a tipped pass by McDonald that was intercepted by Patrick Willis, who had 10 tackles and two passes defensed.
Thumbs up: The 49ers had several nice hits Sunday, but the hit of the game may have belonged to safety Donte Whitner, who blasted wide receiver Jeremy Kerley after a short reception over the middle in the second quarter. Kerley was on his way toward a first down when he collided with Whitner, who knocked Kerley five yards backward. Kerley, who remained on his feet after being bounced, could only get a few of those yards back before being tackled for Willis and had to settle for a 4-yard gain.
Thumbs up: It’s good to see the Niners making better use of Mario Manningham, who is becoming a regular part of the offensive game plan while establishing himself as a legitimate weapon – and he could have had even more big plays Sunday if a few passes hadn’t gone off his hands. As it was, Manningham broke loose for 28 yards on a reverse and led the 49ers with three receptions for 47 yards, including a 26-yard reception that was the longest of the game.
Thumbs up: Fourth-and-goal at the New York 2-yard line late in the third quarter after several missed opportunities on offense earlier in the game? Heck, yes, go for it. Heck, yes, give it to Frank Gore on a power plunge up the middle. Gore banged into the end zone to give the Niners a 17-0 lead on a play that seemed to invigorate his teammates to dominate on both sides over the game’s final 18 minutes, when San Francisco put 24 points on the scoreboard.
Thumbs up: And with literally everybody getting into the act, the 49ers rumbled through the New York defense for 245 yards on the ground, easily their highest total of the Jim Harbaugh era. Gore led the way with 62 yards and Kendall Hunter chipped in with 56 on eight carries, and six San Francisco players finished with 12 yards rushing or more. Nine different 49ers had at least one rushing attempt.
Thumbs up: The Tim Tebow element went nowhere against the Niners as he finished with two carries for zero yards on the ground. The New York rushing game also went nowhere, finishing with 45 yards and a 2.6 average on 17 attempts.
Thumbs down: We’re still kind of wondering how Anthony Davis picks up an unnecessary roughness penalty while in pass protection on third down with the Niners trying to get something going at the end of the first half. After an Andy Lee punt, Aldon Smith also was flagged for unnecessary roughness on third down three plays later to give the Jets a new set of downs. San Francisco had another eight penalties during the game, which is the team’s average through the first quarter of the season.
Thumbs up: It’s difficult to replace the size and strength of Isaac Sopoaga in the middle of San Francisco’s rugged defensive front wall, but Ricky Jean Francois held the point of attack pretty well at nose tackle in Sopoaga’s absence, even if Francois’ name didn’t appear on the final game statistics sheet.
Thumbs up: Three touchdowns in five trips inside the red zone? That’s the kind of efficiency the 49ers need when they get that close to the opposing goal line.
Thumbs up: A 34-0 rout on the road over a first-place team? Yes, you could say the 49ers are back on the right track and that upset loss to the Vikings is fading quickly in their rear-view mirror. And that loss to Minnesota is looking a lot better after the Vikings dropped the Lions in Detroit to also reach the quarter pole of the season with a 3-1 record.